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When an organisation is growing, it will often experience problems maintaining a consistent quality of service.

With growth comes pain

Growing pains are almost inevitable:

  • As a result of your growth, staff need to complete more work in the same number of hours. This leads to shortcuts, mistakes, and stress.
  • New staff are recruited to spread the load. However, they don’t have the organisational knowledge of existing staff, leading to further missteps and mistakes.
  • Experienced staff spend their time training these new employees, reducing their availability to perform their ‘real’ jobs. This adds to their workload and leads to further mistakes, missed deadlines and unhappy clients.

To sustain current levels of business and before you can scale further, you need to address these problems.

Technology to the rescue

Technology (e.g. workflow systems) can help ease these growing pains.

When implemented correctly, technology can also enable you to scale without further pain.

But don’t jump to the technology too early.

The Solution != Technology

The world is full of beautifully-configured workflow systems.

But if you look at the surveys, only a small minority actually add real value to the organisations that paid (significant sums) for their configuration.

I see two primary reasons why the majority fail:

  1. They are implemented without buy-in from the staff expected to use them.
  2. They are implemented too early, before the organisation knows what it actually does.

Technology is one piece of the solution. But it’s not the only piece.

The Solution = Technology + ?

Don’t jump to the shiny new technology without doing the important groundwork first.

1. Get buy-in from staff

You need a system that will be used by staff.

A good system that is used by staff is significantly more valuable than a perfect system that sits idle.

You can use a carrot or a stick to encourage use.

  • The easier approach is the stick: Issue an edict to tell them a new system is coming and they will have to use it. Edicts seldom work with my 5-year old son. So, I’m not sure why anyone thinks they can work with adults.
  • The better approach is the carrot: Seek buy-in. Meet with staff, understand their pains. Identify & explain how these can be eased with the technology.

2. Standardise first. Codify later.

Document the procedures that your staff currently follow.

Document what staff actually do (not what you think they do)

The buy-in that I discussed in the earlier step will significantly improve the effectiveness of this step.

Don’t try to boil the ocean

a) Focus on one procedure.

For example:

  1. The procedure that staff follow most frequently
  2. The procedure that takes the most time
  3. The procedure that is the source of most problems
  4. The procedure that contributes most to customer satisfaction

Write down the steps that are followed, and the decision points along the way. Note who is responsible and who contributes to each step. Note the dependencies.

b) Set a time limit

Good is better than perfect, because perfect takes too long.

Two 2-hour sessions could be enough to capture the most important steps to a reasonable level of detail.

c) Prove it

Whatever you have documented, improve its accuracy by asking staff to follow the procedures and update them to reflect reality.

Yes, it’s boring. But it’s worth it.

I know this is boring work. But there are many benefits to developing these standard operating procedures (SOP’s).

For example:

  1. It gives you the opportunity to identify and rework wasteful steps in the procedures.
  2. It enables your staff to contribute to the procedures, giving them a voice in ‘how we do things around here’.
  3. It will make it far easier to onboard new staff, ensuring a more consistent quality of service to clients and reducing the time that experienced staff spend training newcomers.

Most importantly, now that you know what you actually do, you’re in a far better position to look at  technology.

The Solution = Staff Buy-in + Standard Operating Procedures + Technology